Happy Thanksgiving – Be safe & avoid foodborne illness

Photo courtesy Kabsik Park

In Canada, this Monday marks our Thanksgiving Day. If you’re the one preparing much of the delicious eats, you’re not alone if when it comes to food safety, you have turkey and stuffing on your mind. While they’re the obvious culprits when it comes to foodborne illness, there are other potential offenders that could be on your table.

Though pumpkin pie might be on the menu, chances are you may also be serving up a fruit platter. And if so, some simple steps can help to avoid making you or your guests sick.

Wash your fruit, even if you’re peeling it
Although you don’t eat the rind or peel of many fruits, washing them before cutting or peeling them can help to make them safer to eat.

Case in point- cantaloupe.

Just this week, the Food and Drug Administration( FDA), in the US has concluded an outbreak of infections from Salmonella Typhimurium was from contaminated cantaloupe. They had been investigating nine separate outbreaks with dozens of people becoming ill. And it’s not the first time cantaloupe has been identified as being the culprit.

Does this mean that you should permanently ban cantaloupe from your menu?

Absolutely not!

But if it, or any other food, is on a recall list, then you should adhere to the advisories.

You may wonder why you would need to wash a fruit that you’re either peeling or where you’re discarding the rind. If you think about it, though, when you cut a cantaloupe, or any melon or other fruit for that matter, you cut through the outside and right through to the flesh of the fruit. So if there are any microbes that could make you sick, on the outside, the knife then is contaminated with those microbes.

Cantaloupe, in particular, can be a problem because of the rind. As this fruit grows on the ground, it can come into contact with contaminated water from sources such as nearby farmland where cattle may be raised, The rough surface of the rind can harbour bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli (also known as hamburger disease).

As a result, for food safety’s sake, handle cantaloupe as you would raw poultry or meat. Although I’m not a fan of supermarket plastic bags, when it comes to my buying cantaloupe, I don’t hesitate. When I pick up a cantaloupe to buy, I put it in a bag so that it will not come into contact with any of my other groceries. That way when I pack it up in my own bags, even though I wash them on a regular basis, the cantaloupe will not touch any of my other groceries.

When I get home, I never put it on the counter or in my fridge right away. Instead I immediately put the melon into my sink and scrub it with a brush. Some experts recommend running it under hot water for a few seconds. (Don’t forget to wash your hands as well.) After I have cleaned the cantaloupe, I then disinfect my sink as I would if I was preparing raw meat or poultry.

Now when it comes to other fruits where you might peel it or discard the rind, I also wash them before eating. I don’t necessarily wash them first before putting them in the fridge as I’m less concerned about contaminating other produce at that time.

But if you think about it, if you peel a mango or an orange, whatever is on the peel will likely end up on the fruit, either via a knife or your hands. The same goes for lemon and lime wedges. Even if the growing conditions of various fruits are not a concern for food safety, consider how many people pick up produce to feel or smell it.

While it might seem like a lot of work, once you get into the routine of washing a mango just as you would an apple, it’s no big deal. But if you save yourself from getting sick, it certainly can make a difference.

It will simply become second nature.

Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your festivities!





Tags: , , , ,

Categories: Food Safety, Holidays

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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